9/11 suspects to confess but postpone pleas

December 9, 2008 12:00 am

, GUANTANAMO BAY, Dec 9 – The self-proclaimed architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants said they will plead guilty to terror charges that could bring the death penalty.

The judge of the military tribunal Monday at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Army Colonel Stephen Henley said during pre-trial proceedings that the five defendants had indicated they "wished to enter pleas in what was termed as confessions in this case."

Henley said the defendants, in a letter received by the court several weeks ago, also said that they wished to dismiss their tribunal-appointed attorneys, scrap pre-trial motions and plead guilty to the terror charges.

In submitting their guilty pleas, the five plotters would abandon all defenses against capital punishment, in the hopes of being sentenced to die before president-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20.

"We don’t want to waste time," Sheikh Mohammed, dressed in white and wearing a white turban, with a long gray and black beard, earlier told the judge in English.

Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and handed over to US agents who held him in secret prisons for more than three years before sending him to Guantanamo Bay.

During his arraignment in June, Sheikh Mohammed said he welcomes martyrdom.

But Obama opposes the Guantanamo tribunals, and has said he wants to close down the facility once he becomes president — a pledge that if carried out interferes with the plans of the accused who want to die as martyrs for Islam.

The three defendants indicated they still intend to plead guilty, but want to be sure that he other two defendants — Walid bin Attash and Ali Abdul-Aziz Ali — also will be permitted to do so.

With the judge postponing argument on the case’s motions, it is unlikely that pleas would be entered this week, and it is possible that they may not be heard until next year.

Monday’s court session ended at 2300 GMT, but not before Ramzi bin al-Shibh offered holiday greetings to "Osama bin Laden, God protect him" and to "the entire Islamic world" on Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy day commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.

On the eve of Monday’s hearing, which was attended by numerous relatives of the 9/11 victims, Alice Hoagland — whose son Mark Bingham died fighting hijackers aboard United Airways’ flight 93 — said she opposed the capital punishment for Sheikh Mohammed, in part to deny him glory in death.

"I can’t think of anybody who less deserves martyrdom," said Hoagland.

Human rights groups were quick to criticize the proceedings.

"Anyone who believes that this is a victory for American justice is sadly mistaken," American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero said.

Jennifer Daskal, an official with Human Rights Watch, echoed that view.

"What should have been a major victory in holding the 9/11 defendants accountable for terrible crimes has been tainted by torture and an unfair military commissions process," she said.

But Hoagland, whose son was one of 2,973 people killed in the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, said she was "really proud that the commission is proceeding in its slow and thoughtful and deliberate way."

Other relative of victims said they welcomed the prosecutions of the alleged perpetrators of the worst-ever act of terrorism on US soil.

"I think its an extremely proud day because it show just how sincere the US is in giving these individuals a fair trial," said Hamilton Peterson, whose father and stepmother were on Flight 93.

Peterson added that he hoped Obama would not only choose to keep the Guantanamo camp open, but might consider expanding it once he confronts "a new awareness of the realities" of global extremism after he takes office.


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